January 24, 2008
Palace Party Stuck in Neutral

By James V. Dowd

As the CCHA front-office executives and member teams continue their ongoing efforts to increase the visibility of one of college hockey's most prominent conferences, more and more games are seen on television and teams make an effort to stage some rivalry match-ups at neutral arenas. Efforts like these — namely the Cold War at Spartan Stadium in 2001 or annual games between Michigan and Michigan State at Joe Louis Arena — have drawn an unprecedented number of fans into the collegiate realm of the game.

CCHA Notebook

Following two losses to Michigan last weekend, Garrett Regan and Notre Dame have a 2-5-1 mark over the last eight games.

National TV Schedule

This past weekend, Notre Dame took another stab at drawing new fans to its resurgent program when it revisited a chapter of it rivalry with Michigan with a game at The Palace of Auburn Hills — best known as the home of the Detroit Pistons. The teams met at the same venue for four consecutive seasons from 1992-93 through 1995-96, with the Wolverines winning all four games. But while this event, a 5-1 Michigan victory, was well intentioned, its execution left much to be desired.

Because the arena is dominated by basketball during this time of year, there was little time to let the ice surface cure. In fact, the sheet sat under the floor for Friday's game between the Pistons and Sacramento. Combined with the fact that the game drew just 10,381 fans to an arena with a capacity of just over 22,000, the contest was not likely to win over new converts to the college game.

“The game started off pretty slowly,” Michigan goaltender Billy Sauer said. “There weren't a lot of fans, so it was hard to get into the game, plus the ice was pretty bad. Pucks were bouncing around and I was just trying to keep an eye on them and keep them in front of me.”

Despite having to overcome the poor ice surface and disappointing turnout, Michigan coach Red Berenson understands the importance of these games — especially the visibility they can provide — and would participate again given another chance.

“The ice was really bad,” Berenson said. “In fairness to the Palace, they just put the ice in a few days ago. [I wouldn't hesitate to play a game here again], I think this is good for college hockey and the state of Michigan, for the CCHA. Certainly the Palace has done a lot in trying to get more college games.”


Late Goal Gets Irish a Point: In should come as no surprise, but Miami continued its torrid pace, going step-for-step with Michigan at the top of the league with one of its most impressive sweeps of the year, beating Lake Superior State by 6-1 and 5-0 scores.

And while the Lakers and Alaska, Miami's opponent this weekend, have both improved greatly in recent weeks, the looming showdown with Michigan two weeks down the road is on the minds of the RedHawks as they hope to seize sole control of the conference from the Wolverines — both teams have the same amount of points in the league standings, but Michigan has two games in hand.

“It's going to be a big series and we're excited about it,” Miami netminder Charlie Effinger said to the Hamilton Journal-News after getting the win in goal for Miami last Friday. “At the same time, these upcoming games [at Alaska] are crucial in order to put ourselves in a spot where that series means something. We have to take care of business.”

The RedHawks skate into Fairbanks having split two previous games with the Nanooks this season, beating them 3-1 in the series opener in Oxford Dec. 7 before dropping a 3-1 decision the next night. Recent history sides with the Nanooks, as the hosts took three points from the vistiting RedHawks last season. But losing to Alaska at home back in December seemed to light a fire under Miami, which has won nine of 10 since that defeat.

Great Weekend Getaway
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Michigan State at Michigan (Fri.)
Michigan at Michigan State (Sat)

College hockey doesn't get much better than this fierce, in-state rivalry. With both teams vying for the CCHA title, this series promises to be worth the price of admission. Michigan has been flying all season, and while the defending national champs have struggled at times, the Spartans appear to have found their groove by going 4-0-2 in their last six games.

While you're there: Take a trip to downtown Detroit to visit the North American International Auto Show, which runs through Sunday. The show is, befitting a place called the Motor City, one of the world's most prominent exhibitions of current and future vehicles. From the mundane sedans we see on the road every day to rides costing more than most houses, the variety helps with practical choices and dreams alike.

Stick Salute

In the storied history of the Michigan hockey program, no team has ever started the season with a 22-2-0 record — until now. It's an impressive achievement for any team, even moreso for one that entered the year with few veterans, a boatload of freshmen, and a goaltender whose previous work can be characterized as spotty at best.

Bench Minor

As teams make efforts to promote the well-being of college hockey, they've got to keep the sport's unique atmosphere in mind. One of the huge parts of this aura is the pep band, and in large, neutral arenas, dueling pep bands. At last weekend's showdown at the Palace of Auburn Hills, however, Notre Dame refused to allow Michigan's pep band to attend, despite available seating. While it was indeed their prerogative as the home team, it would have added a lot to the atmosphere to hear a dule between two of college hockey's best bands.


• After turning heads with strong play during the first half of the season, Bowling Green proved its success is no fluke by sweeping Western Michigan in a home-and-home last weekend after the Falcons had lost six of their last eight games. Back in November, a pair of wins over the Broncos marked the beginning of a 7-2-0 run for Bowling Green prior to the team's holiday slowdown.

• It's common knowledge that you have to stay out of the penalty box in order to win, and Western Michigan learned that lesson the hard way this past weekend. In their two losses to Bowling Green, the Broncos amassed more penalty minutes than minutes played (134 penalty minutes in 121+ minutes of play). Although many of the minutes were a result of a Friday night scuffle involving both teams, the Broncos accumulated 34 more minutes than Bowling Green.

• Having notched three points in its first two series after being embarrassed at the Great Lakes Invitational, Michigan State managed to stay within shouting distance of Michigan and Miami by sweeping Ohio State in Columbus. Heading into this weekend's home-and-home against the rival Wolverines, the Spartans sit just four points out of first place — a difference which can be made up with strong play this weekend.

• As was featured in last week's notebook — and following in the mold of the Super Bowl-bound New York Giants — Nebraska-Omaha continued its strong play on the road with a pair of victories at Alaska. The Mavericks, who improved to 7-5-0 on the road, take this week off before heading to Michigan State.

• Northern Michigan sophomore goalie Brian Stewart has a mediocre 6-10-1 record this season, but he was the star of an offensive outburst [at least what amounts to one for NMU] when the Wildcats knocked off Ferris State 4-1 Saturday. In that game, Stewart made 38 saves, one night after totaling 35 stops in a 3-2 loss to the Bulldogs.

• While televised games have almost become the norm for the most prominent schools in the CCHA, Ferris State and Northern Michigan fans had their moments of fame, and on national TV, nonetheless. CSTV televised last Saturday's game between the Wildcats and Bulldogs in the network's first trip to Ewigleben Arena in Big Rapids.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report. James V. Dowd can be reached at james@insidecollegehockey.com.